Taking a closer look at 'Occupy SF'


Protestors remain camped at Justin Herman Plaza despite plans for a raid Wednesday night. However, city officials remain concerned about unsanitary conditions and open flames from propane stoves. Police were ready to go in Wednesday night to clear demonstrators, but decided against it saying they didn't want another situation like what happened in Oakland.

San Francisco Occupiers speak about their movement

The Occupy movement along San Francisco's Embarcadero has changed shape over the past few days. Many of those who are still camped out are concerned their message is getting lost. The more the Occupy movement goes on, it feels as if it has been taken over by politicians, social workers, and social commentators -- any of whom may inadvertently objectify what we're looking at. So on Friday, ABC7 looks at the basics.

In San Francisco, the difference between the so-called 1 percent, and the righteous 99 percent, is a few stories or the width of a boulevard or for one couple on vacation a nice breakfast.

"I guess there is a movement going on. There is a sense that something's wrong, but I can't get no common message out of it," said vacationer Chuck Allen.

But multiple messages? Sure, there are plenty of those and you can simply read the signs or check the literature.

Derrick Whaler with 'Occupy SF' from Oklahoma City said, "The biggest misunderstanding I would say is that they're trying to get us to say what are our few goals and we haven't decided to do that yet."

While they debate their relative merits, Occupy San Francisco has become a world unto itself. It is a melting pot of optimism, fed by despair, powered by inclusiveness.

Chris Sullivan from Occupy SF was asked: if a homeless person joins the camp, is he still homeless? And he replied, "No. He's got a home now."

Sullivan is a former student and unemployed factory worker from Akron, Ohio.

"I am here basically to join the movement and the revolution. I'm tired of what's going on, I'm ready to take a stand and do something," said Sullivan. And when asked if he had run out of options, he said, "Pretty much, yeah."

But in a hostile world this protest, he said, provides a positive alternative.

"It's about everybody coming together as a community doing everything together, and everybody still getting what they need," said Sullivan.

The Occupy movement does get free food. The place now operates a communal kitchen, funded entirely by donations.

When asked if anything was for sale at the camp, Sullivan said, "Nothing is for sale."

The 99 percent is now on display for the 1 percent, assuming the 1 percent are paying attention. If not -- no matter.

When asked what will history say about this place, Amanuel Bereket from Occupy SF said, "What history will say about this place is that our parents did the same thing 35, 40 years ago and now this is our time. This is our movement."

What is news today will be history tomorrow. We asked one of those occupiers how long they would be content to stay. She responded, "Years. Although, if we stay that long the place will look completely different."

'Occupy SF' has similarities to past occupations

Mayor Ed Lee is still trying to convince protesters to take down their tents. There are many similarities between what's happening at Justin Herman Plaza right now and past occupations in the city.

Public health and safety are the same concerns that have been raised by officials through the decades every time demonstrators occupy city property.

"No open flames. No propane tanks. The car batteries are not being used properly," said San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

"We're trying to be in compliance with it," said Occupy SF protester Richard Kreidler.

Health and safety were the same concerns at a huge tent city that sprouted at the Civic Center in the late 1980s. Hundreds of homeless people occupied the plaza for months.

"Well, I'm sleeping in my tent when the cops come with bad intent..." sang a protester back then.

Also, Art Agnos was mayor at the time. Today he said, "There were some unsafe periods, may have been some unsanitary things, it wasn't clean."

There was mounting criticism by businesses and the city's tourist officials.

"People wanted them out of sight and out of mind," said Agnos.

Agnos was burned in effigy when he was ordered to tear down the camp in 1989. By then, he had 500 new housing units for the homeless.

"I ordered them evicted and we had social workers working with police to accomplish that," said Agnos.

But many old-timers say there are more parallels between Occupy SF and the AIDS vigil and encampment in 1985 that lasted 10 years. Protesters were angry at the inaction of the federal government towards the growing AIDS epidemic. They took over the UN Plaza just across the street from Civic Center.

"Not only were people camping out, but you had tarps and tents," said Supervisor David Campos.

It became the city's longest running act of civil disobedience. Two weeks ago, police came in to Justin Herman Plaza and tore down Occupy SF's tarps. Federal marshals tried unsuccessfully to do the same at UN Plaza. At Occupy SF, numerous politicians have appeared to voice their support. The same happened at the AIDS vigil.

"It became a very strong movement that was reinforced by members of the Board of Supervisors, mayors like me," said Agnos.

The encampment ended in 1995 when fierce storms blew away the tents.

Public Works crews will try to come on Saturday morning and give Justin Herman Plaza a thorough cleaning, hopefully with the help and consent of the Occupy SF protesters. Apparently this was something discussed at the mayor's meeting on Thursday. The protesters say they're planning a march on Saturday at 3 p.m.

Critical mass -- a movement to encourage people to ride bikes over driving cars for transportation -- also kicked off from Justin Herman Plaza on Friday evening.

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